Mobilizing Hundreds: The Pilipinx Response To a Crisis Call

Pilipino Human Rights activist Jerome Aba allegedly tortured at SFO. The Pilipinx community fights back.

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The UC Santa Cruz chapter of Anakbayan will be leading a march at noon on May 3 from Hahn Student Center to raise awareness around the detainment and alleged torture of Pilipino human rights organizer, Jerome Aba.

Aba landed in San Francisco Airport (SFO) on April 17 on the eve of his speaking tour in the U.S. with a valid visa. According to Aba, he was forced to strip down in front of an industrial fan, called a terrorist and communist by Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officials and only fed pork — a food his Islamic religion prohibits. He was also denied a lawyer and calls to the Philippine consulate did not offer any solutions for the protestors, according to SFWeekly.

Despite having a visa to the U.S., CBP and Homeland Security denied his entry to the U.S. due to a “technical glitch,” according to several news outlets. CBP and Homeland Security also denied all allegations of torture.

“I asserted that this is illegal. This is cruel. This is inhumane. This is a violation of human rights,” Aba said at a press conference.

This incident incited national outrage within the Pilipinx community, and a massive organizing campaign for Aba’s treatment at SFO followed within the past week.

Adrian Bonifacio, the national chair of Anakbayan USA, woke up to a barrage of texts on the day of Aba’s detainment. What was supposed to be a normal workday for Bonifacio turned out to be the beginning of a non-stop organizing marathon. Bonifacio and other organizers from Pilipinx community organizations quickly planned multiple emergency actions across the Bay Area with hundreds from the Pilipinx community in solidarity with Aba.

“Here is a human rights worker that is going to reveal what’s been going on in the Philippines. […] We know that Trump has openly congratulated President Duterte on this really bloody war on drugs and we know that [Aba] is a Muslim Pilipino,” Bonifacio said. “With everything around the political climate in the states, it’s clear why he was denied entry. I was really outraged.”

Despite the fear and outrage that rippled through the Pilipinx community due to Aba’s treatment, UCSC Anakbayan President Jared Semana said he found inspiration within the emergency mass organizing in response. Semana claims this solidarity as a primary motivation for the action on Thursday.

“Growing up in Stockton, I’ve never seen Pilipinos or Pilipino-Americans come together on an issue,” Semana said. “My family is really a-political, so that was my exposure to the community. But the first time I went to an [Anakbayan] action, I was mind blown. SFO is a continuation of that. It’s beautiful to see these people come together in solidarity.”

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) also presented a resolution, organized by ICHRP member Raquel Redondiez, to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors condemning the treatment of Jerome Aba, which passed on May 1. The resolution also demands an independent investigation of Aba’s detainment.

Other efforts by community organizations like Anakbayan included phone barrages to Senator Kamala Harris’s office.

“Given what happened to [Aba], we felt that it was important for the city of San Francisco to be aware of what’s happening and also take a strong stance denouncing any kind of detainees at the airport,” Raquel Redondiez said.